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February 6, 2008 > Health and Wellness Seminar

Health and Wellness Seminar

Prevention and Treatment of Stomach Ailments

Most everyone suffers from some sort of stomach problem at one time or another. While discomforts such as heartburn, nausea, vomiting or stomach pain generally subside fairly quickly, recurring symptoms might possibly indicate a more serious condition.

"One of the most common digestive problems is esophageal reflux disease, known as heartburn," says Dr. Bhupinder Bhandari, a gastroenterologist at Washington Hospital.

Esophageal reflux occurs when the "sphincter" muscle at the top of the stomach is not working properly and acid from the stomach moves up into the esophagus in the throat. The acid produces a burning sensation in the chest, which is why they call it heartburn.

"Reflux is the most common digestive disorder, with about 10 to 20 percent of the population experiencing several episodes a week," Dr. Bhandari notes. "It is becoming more widely recognized as an important health problem not only because of its prevalence but also because it has an impact on people's day-to-day lives, affecting their psychological well being and productivity. Reflux also can lead to serious complications such as bleeding from the gastrointestinal tract, esophageal 'strictures' - or narrowing of the esophagus - scarring of the esophagus, and even esophageal cancer."

To promote greater awareness of stomach problems and their treatment, Dr. Bhandari will conduct a Health & Wellness seminar on Tuesday, February 12 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. The seminar will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A & B, in the Washington West Building located at 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont.

The problem can often be treated by making lifestyle changes such as losing weight, cutting back on fried and spicy foods, quitting smoking, and avoiding food and beverages with caffeine such as chocolate, coffee and colas. It also may be helpful to avoid eating for at least a couple of hours before bedtime. Medications also can be useful when lifestyle changes don't solve the problem.

"People with heartburn can use of a variety of over-the-counter medications such as antacids, famotidine (Pepcid) or ranitidine (Zantac), Dr. Bhandari says. "If those don't work well enough and the patient has persistent and frequent heartburn, esomeprazole magnesium (Nexium) may provide relief. In rare cases, treating esophageal reflux may require surgery to repair the sphincter muscle at the top of the stomach."

Dr. Bhandari emphasizes that anyone who starts experiencing more frequent or more intense heartburn should seek medical advice. "The physician may need to do an endoscopy exam to evaluate the extent of the problem," he explains. "In this test, the doctor inserts a small flexible tube through the mouth and down the esophagus to the stomach. A camera attached to the tube allows the doctor to view the esophagus and stomach."


Another common serious digestive disease is peptic ulcer - a sore on the lining of the stomach or duodenum (the beginning of the small intestine). Peptic ulcers occur when stomach acid penetrates the stomach or duodenal lining and causes erosions that may produce upper abdominal pain and lead to internal bleeding and possibly anemia and other complications. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, an estimated one in 10 Americans will develop peptic ulcer disease. Duodenal ulcers are more common than stomach ulcers.

"People used to think that ulcers were caused by stress or even by eating spicy foods," says Dr. Bhandari. "We now understand, however, that the vast majority of ulcers - more than 90 percent - are caused by a type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, or H. pylori. The bacteria attack the stomach lining. Another frequent cause of ulcers is the overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin."

The most common symptom of an ulcer is a burning pain in the stomach, between the breastbone and navel. The pain is most common when the stomach is empty, but it can occur at any time. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, blood in the stool or loss of appetite.

People who have symptoms of a peptic ulcer should consult their physician and be tested for H. pylori infection or exposure. Testing can involve a blood test, a breath test or a stool test.

"An endoscopy also can enable the doctor to take small samples of the stomach lining to test for the presence of H. pylori bacteria," Dr. Bhandari says. "Endoscopy also can be used to examine gastric and duodenal ulcers and evaluate their severity."

Most ulcers can be treated successfully with medication. Treatment for peptic ulcers resulting from H. pylori infection includes a combination of antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Other medications may be used to reduce the acid in the stomach and protect the stomach lining. It is extremely uncommon for an ulcer to require surgery unless there is uncontrolled bleeding.

Dr. Bhandari comments that a stomach ulcer may actually be a sign of stomach cancer. "There is a genetic predisposition to stomach cancer, and people with gastric peptic ulcers also may be more susceptible to stomach cancer," he explains. "Duodenal ulcers are not as likely to be a precursor to cancer.

"Stomach cancer is relatively rare, but cancer of the esophagus is increasing in frequency," he adds. "People with esophageal reflux disease are at a much higher risk of developing cancer of the esophagus, and the cancer rates are going up along with the growing prevalence of reflux disease. The symptoms of esophageal cancer can include trouble swallowing and weight loss. But you shouldn't wait for signs of cancer to seek treatment for either esophageal reflux disease or peptic ulcers."

To register to attend the Stomach Problems and Treatment seminar on Tuesday, Feb. 12, please call (800) 963-7070 or register online at www.whhs.com


Washington Hospital
Tri-City Voice article re: Stomach problems
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